This was a gamble for me; I don’t usually read Regency romances other than Georgette Heyer’s and I was worried that this book might be silly and derivative. However, I’m pleased to say that I found it entertaining, intelligent and thoroughly enjoyable. Although some elements of the plot undoubtedly draw heavily on Heyer and Austen and we have a heroine who in many ways resembles Becky Sharp from Vanity Fair, Sophie Irwin still manages to make the story feel fresh and engaging.
Kitty Talbot is the eldest of five recently orphaned sisters whose father has left them with a mountain of debt and in danger of losing their home. Having just been jilted by her wealthy fiancé, Kitty decides that the only solution is to find another rich man to marry – but unless she can do so within the next twelve weeks, Netley Cottage will be repossessed and the family thrown into poverty. So, accompanied by her sister Cecily, Kitty heads to London for the Season, determined to launch herself into society and find a suitable husband as soon as possible.
Once settled in London at the home of her mother’s old friend, Aunt Dorothy, Kitty sets her sights on young Archie de Lacy, who quickly succumbs to her charms. But just as Archie seems to be on the verge of proposing, his brother Lord Radcliffe arrives from his country estate – and sees straight through her plans. This is going to make finding a husband much more difficult than Kitty had expected!
Although I could predict from early in the novel how it was going to end, that didn’t make it any less fun to read. Sophie Irwin throws just about everything into the story that you would expect to find in a Regency romance: balls, dinner parties, trips to the theatre and the Vauxhall Pleasure Gardens, carriage rides, notorious gambling dens, elopements to Gretna Green and encounters with highwaymen. There are also plenty of interactions between our heroine and the man we can quickly guess is going to be the hero, allowing us to watch their relationship develop over the course of the novel.
Kitty is unashamedly open – at least to her family and friends – about her plans to marry for money. She’s ruthless and manipulative, yet it’s clear that everything she does is for the sake of her younger sisters and she is not motivated by greed or personal comfort. Even though you know that what she is doing is morally wrong, you can’t help hoping that she succeeds. I also hoped for some happiness for her sister, Cecily, who at eighteen is just a few years younger and has accompanied Kitty to London at their Aunt Dorothy’s suggestion. The bookish, intellectual Cecily is more comfortable reading poetry or visiting a museum, but she reluctantly tags along with Kitty to tea parties and dances and almost ruins her sister’s schemes by making one faux pas after another.
I noticed one or two words and phrases that don’t belong in a Regency novel (‘misgendering’ being the worst example), but the language is generally appropriate and the period is brought to life quite vividly. The book does have a lot of interesting things to say about wealth, the class system and why some people should be denied the same opportunities in life as others just because they come from a less privileged background. This gives the novel some extra depth and makes it more than just a light romance.
This is Sophie Irwin’s first novel, but I’m already looking forward to her next one.
Thanks to HarperCollins for providing a copy of this book for review via NetGalley.
This is book 23/50 read for the Historical Fiction Reading Challenge 2022.